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1.3 million phones found down back of the sofa in UK

Although not all in the same one, obviously

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More than half of mobiles reported stolen in the UK later turn up down the back of the sofa or somewhere similar, according to the UK Home Office.

Last week we asked the Home Office what happens to the 1.3 million handsets that they had told us were reported stolen, but don't appear in the official crime figures. Now we know - they turn up later, safe and sound.

The figures came in response to our coverage of the latest schemes to reduce mobile-phone crime, which were sponsored by The Technology Strategy Board*. They included a tag which bleeps if your handset is more than a few meters away, and a system that requests a PIN when the SIM is changed.

Those ideas were promoted with the information that 228 phones are reported stolen every hour in the UK, which adds up to around 2m phones every year. But Home Office statistics put the number of handsets stolen at 700,000, so we lodged a question about what happens to the other 1.3m handsets, but didn't get a reply in time for publication.

Well - now we know, apparently every year 1.3 million people in the UK report their phone stolen, then find it down the back of the sofa the following day.

There is an alternative explanation of course: the 228-per-hour is based on insurance claims, while 700,000 thefts are recorded by the police. It occurs to us that some people might be claiming for phones without reporting them stolen: perhaps even because they weren't stolen. That's not the kind of crime that tags, PINs or any other technological developments can solve.

They also wouldn't help with "mobile phone identity fraud", which the same promotion told us had "risen by 74% in the first half of 2009". We weren't at all clear what that entailed, except that no-one was dressing up as an iPhone.

We've now been advised that this crime involves people buying phone contracts under false names, thus getting the subsidised handset and not paying the monthly fee.

So it seems that the majority of mobile phone crime involves insurance fraud and people nicking stuff from shops, neither of which is going to be solved by the technology presented, and sponsored, by the HM Government. ®

* Which is, in turn, funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

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